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Peregrinations Mexico and Central America on Motorcycle: Open road, open heart, open mind.

Week 15: Xela

GUATEMALA | Tuesday, 28 June 2011 | Views [2510]

Not my photo (elquetzalteco.com.gt) The city of Xela.

Not my photo (elquetzalteco.com.gt) The city of Xela.

After debating whether or not to go to Xela, I drove here last week from San Pedro on a beautiful, clear, sunny morning. The skies were blue, the volcanoes green, and the pavement black. Not a bad combination. The road leading up out of San Pedro was almost as much of an adventure as it was going down. The corners are so tight, steep and hairpinned that I had to downshift into first gear for some of them, and repeat my mantra, "The bike wants to stay upright, the bike wants to stay upright!"

Xela surprised me right away. Being the second largest city in Guatemala, I expected awful traffic, dirty streets, tall buildings, and endless confusion trying to find my way around. But in reality it was small, with cobbled streets, light traffic, and, miracle of miracles, clear street signs! I found my way to Casa Argentina with no frustration to speak of, and met up again with my friend Rebeka. She in turn introduced me to everyone living at the hostel, and so the fun began.

I hit the ground running. That very night, after a mere three hours of sleep, I woke up at midnight, packed a backpack, bundled up, and crawled into a collectivo with all my new friends. There were three Argentines, a Spainard, a French guy, the Quebeccer, two Guatemalans, and me. Quite a crew! We drove half an hour to the end of a road, got out, and began our moonlight ascent of Volcan Santa Maria. 

The hike was steep and difficult. My world was reduced to the circle of my headlamp beam, with occassional glimpses of white and purple flowers I looked forward to seeing in the daylight. Every so often we reached a switchback with views down over the city. From our great height, I could see the spread of the city, and realized it was much larger than I first gave it credit for. Islands of twinkling lights shone through gaps in the pearly-white moonlit clouds, and tall, dark, monolithic volcanoes rose out of the gleaming sea like watchful sentinals. 

Hours later, we summitted, and I was rewarded with the most lovely and mesmerizing sunrise of my life. There were so many beautiful things to look at at once, in so many directions, that it was impossible to take it all in. Firstly, there was the eastern horizon itself, splitting thinly open, like light coming in under a door, all orange and yellow and crimson. Then, below us on the other side of the mountain, barely visible in the morning gloom, was Volcan Santiaguito, very much active and billowing hot plumes of smoke and ash, with lightning flickering within. And inside the cone of the volcano, clearly visible for a mere two minutes, was the glowing red of actual lava, crusted over with black, and gleaming ocassionally with clear, white light. 

When the coals of Santiaguito were no longer visible, I looked up to have my world rocked yet again. The misty clouds around us had all taken on a profuse and delicate lavender and rose hue. Everywhere I looked, up, down, and around, I was surrounded by a fairytale landscape, full of light, color, lupines, glistening dew-laden trees, and a horizon of stately volcanoes. Heaven on earth.

So that was my introduction to Xela. The next few days were less adventurous, but no less fun and thrilling. The group of people I've been hanging out with mostly live here in the city. Some have been on the road for years, others for months, some are locals, and all are settled into this lovely city for some period of time. They have jobs and responsibilities, but also nightlives and parties and more friends. Every night we've gone out and done something new, usually focused around live music.

It is a constant truth that friendships and relationships on the road progress quickly and recklessly, with no time to waste in the typical dance of sizing each other up. People open up quickly, bare it all and risk it all, right off the bat. If you want to know someone, there's no time to lose, because odds are one of you is getting on a bus (or a bike) the next day. The relationships I have formed in this town are no different. I leave tomorrow for El Salvador. If only I had the same amount of room on my bike as I seem to have in my heart these days.

Until next time,

Sarah

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